Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Soft Revolution: Jennifer Lopez's "This Is Me...Then" Turns 10

Alternate shot from the This Is Me...Then photo shoot
2002 was a very good year for Jennifer Lopez. Sitting atop mass successes in film, music, and product endorsements, the Lopez brand was solid. Lopez's movie magic usually drew less detractors than her music musings did. Even with compelling songs like "If You Had My Love," "Waiting For Tonight," and "Play" the parent records felt secondary, almost hobby-like.

Yet the mentioned collection of songs bore an undeniable artistry peeking around the corner of the unworthy album fares of On the 6 (1999) and J.Lo (2000). Also at this juncture, alongside her monopolizing sweep in entertainment, Lopez had found love with actor Ben Affleck. It was out of this union that Jennifer Lopez created her first declaratory statement in This Is Me...Then (2002). The title, an immediate nod toward the past tense, sought to capture a moment in Lopez's life. This Is Me...Then ended up as the first of three recordings that'd (finally) bedrock Lopez as a real singer in her own right.

The History
The launch pad for This Is Me...Then was ripe for good fortune. The three years preceding Lopez's third set saw Lopez go from up-and-coming actress to pop superstar. Her debut On the 6 and its follow-up J.Lo had gone on to multiple platinum certifications. Lopez rode into 2001 on the back of the remixed versions of her J.Lo singles "I'm Real" and "Ain't It Funny". The remixes tied Lopez into the (then) power amassing Murder Inc. hip-hop/R&B empire that produced Ashanti and Ja Rule. Rule himself appeared on both the remixes. The alternate sides featured on J to tha Lo! The Remixes that manifested in early 2002. It became the most successful remix album in the history of the American Billboard chart, and the first remix LP to claim the number one spot on said chart.

Lopez as an actress had only gained more traction. From 2001 through 2002 The Wedding Planner (which topped the film box office the same time J.Lo topped the charts), Angel Eyes, Enough, and Maid in Manhattan all kept Lopez prominent. In actuality, because of her omnipresence, Lopez could have sang the veritable phone book and it'd strike gold. Amid Lopez's hurried pace, she found the time to sit down and conceptualize her third player.

The Record
Even with her enthusiastic interpolations of R&B and hip-hop in her pop, Lopez's harshest critics usually argued that she lacked the conviction to pull off the material. The Bronx born Latina was 31 to 32 when This Is Me...Then was underway in its recording. This meant that she was 11 or 12, at least, in 1982 when New York City was teeming with new life after the often discussed post-disco blowout. The range of acts Lopez was exposed to had to be endless and varied, and she decided to use her third album as an out to explore those meatier musical leanings.

Outtake from This Is Me...Then 
Spurned onward by the fast-developing courtship to Ben Affleck, Lopez and longtime friend/producer Cory Rooney saw the chance to connect to her personae in an intimate fashion. Lopez co-wrote nine of the 11 cuts featured with additional assistance from Troy Oliver, Bernard Edwards Jr., Dan Shea, Trackmasters, Ron G., Dave McPherson, Rich Shelton, Kevin Veney, Loren Hill, and Reggie Hamlet. Before, Lopez had worked only in contemporary sounds, whereas This Is Me...Then managed a vintage, soft, sensual, and warming air.

Pockets of amber-gold hued woodwinds, strings, and horns flowered all over, equally natural and sampled. Lopez's sample choices were smart, at times familiar, and surprising: "Set Me Free" by Teddy Pendergrass ("Still"), "Juicy Fruit" by Mtume and "Never Give Up on a Good Thing" by George Benson ("Loving You"), "P.S.K. What Does It Mean?" by Schoolly D. ("I'm Glad"), "You Are Everything" by The Stylistics ("The One"), "Very Special" by Debra Laws ("All I Have"), "Hi-Jack Enoch" by Light & The Light Brigade, "South Bronx" by Boogie Down Productions" and "Heaven & Hell is on Earth" by 20th Century Steel Band ("Jenny From the Block"), "Catch the Beat" by T Ski Valley ("You Belong to Me"), "Midnight Cowboy" by John Barry ("Baby I ♥ U").

Lopez was in fine voice, proving she had room to roam and showed massive improvement. She stretched on the yearning, morning after confessional of "Baby I ♥ U," and took to heartbreak hotel confines on a cover of Carly Simon's '77 Boys in the Trees hit "You Belong to Me". With the usage of the stated T Ski Valley groove "Catch the Beat," Lopez elevated the already jazzy side of the "You Belong to Me" and gave a supple, impeccable vocal.

Elsewhere, Lopez turned in lovely adult balladry in "I'm Glad," one of her unsung jewels.  Lyrically, the themes were mature ("I've Been Thinkin'," "Again") and rewarded in their tale spinning spans. Only "Dear Ben," the obvious nod to her relationship with Affleck, poured on the syrup, but it was tasteful syrup. The colorful cool of "Loving You" relaxed, but the swagger of "Jenny From the Block" (with verses from MC's Jadakiss and Styles P) had Lopez (coyly) aware of her own mystique. Bobbing and weaving through the minty flutes, bursting sample shouts of her and Boogie Down Productions ("The Bronx!"), "Jenny From the Block" was the salt to the sugar of This Is Me...Then.

The Impact
"Jenny From the Block" led the singles, there would be four, from This Is Me...Then. Dropping two months before the album in September of 2002, "Jenny From the Block" smashed into the charts: U.S. Hot 100 #1, U.S. R&B #22, U.S. Latin Pop #25, U.K. #3, Canada #1, Australia #5. Playing to her already hip-hop configured singles previously, it was the blatant shoe-in for first single pick.

The three remaining singles from This Is Me...Then, two of which moved into early-to-mid 2003, were met with eager reception in U.S. and global markets: "All I Have" with LL Cool J (U.S. Hot 100 #1, U.S. R&B #4, Canada #17, U.K. #2, Australia #12), "I'm Glad (U.S. Hot 100 #32, U.S. R&B #19, U.S. Dance Music/Club Play #4, Canada #8, U.K. #11, Australia #10), "Baby I ♥ U" (U.S. Hot 100 #72, U.S R&B #55, U.K. #3).

Still from the music video shoot for "I'm Glad"
Released on November 19, 2002 This Is Me...Then continued Lopez's hit streak with her albums: U.S Billboard 200 #2, U.S Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop #5, U.S. Billboard Internet #2, Canada #5, U.K. #13, AU #14, Oricon #19. The record eventually grabbed 2.5 million sales in the United States alone (double platinum), and attained 6 million worldwide (Canada: double platinum, U.K.: platinum, AU: platinum).

There was a halving in Lopez's album sales, J.Lo placed platinum four times in the U.S., here This Is Me...Then did half those numbers. Far from a poor showing, the softening had two major variables at play. First, Lopez's switch into an overtly adult, wider pop sound (versus just dance or hip-hop) clearly confused the casual followers. Secondly, the fatigue of Lopez's media overexposure was slowly beginning to rear its head, and the latter singles from This Is Me...Then felt that pressure in America.

Critically speaking, Lopez had her detractors still, Village Voice writer Jon Caramanica comically opined:
Jennifer Lopez makes albums for the same reasons you and I give holiday gifts to people we don't exactly like: vanity and obligation. See, being a singer is what saved her from being a mediocre actress, which is what saved her from having to hotfoot and Harlem shake for the rest of her pre-osteoporosis life as a Fly Girl.

That opinion couldn't even cede, rightfully, that Lopez had made an attempt to step forward in an big way. However, there were others who managed to lead the tide that showed improving critical favor for Lopez. Slant Magazine pop writer Sal Cinquemani stated:
Jennifer Lopez makes a surprising step toward more adult-oriented R&B on her third studio album. This Is Me…Then mixes the old with the new to varying degrees of success and manages to find the right formula for Lopez's slinky vocal. Ripe with live instrumentation and stripped of the Latin-pop numbers that, though good, never seemed quite authentic, This Is Me…Then is more unified than its predecessors. Though Lopez's voice is best suited for dance-pop ("Waiting for Tonight" is still her best single), the album forsakes such pleasures for a richer, fuller sound. Lopez will no doubt earn a grain of respect from critics but the commercial cost is yet to be seen.
Cinquemani immediately recognized the creative victory won with This Is Me...Then, but also observed that commercially Lopez might lose ground. That she didn't completely care raised eyebrows. Jennifer Lopez? Making dares to show her expressive muscles? It definitely elevated the stakes.

"I'm Glad"
Directed By: David LaChapelle

The album wrapped around the time Lopez's 2003 film partnership with former beau Affleck, Gigli, was savaged in the press and box offices. The last single from This Is Me...Then,  "Baby I U," initially boasted intercut scenes from Gigli. When the film tanked, the video was re-released in its non-Gigli styled format. Lopez took a year sabbatical before returning with 2005's muddled and transitional Rebirth. A year separated that album and the two that finally rivaled This Is Me...Then for creative sparks: 2007's Como Ama una Mujer and Brave.
Without This Is Me...Then, those two recordings never could have come to life. Lopez's need to risk, to let her music speak for her made her more than just a pale celebrity shade; it made her real. In pop music that spirit and spunk is what keeps Jennifer Lopez as one of the last American pop figures to really matter and work at wanting to matter. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH
[Editor's Note: This Is Me...Then is readily in print in all physical and digital outlets. For current information on Jennifer Lopez, visit her official site.-QH]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer: Black Gypsy Extraordinaire

Summer, circa Donna Summer era

"... And that's why I like to make a lot of different types of songs. Because I want to reach a lot of different types of people... I'm a rainbow. We're all rainbows, you know. We're made up of...we're complex. We're made up of a lot of different colors, and to say I'm only green, or only red, or only yellow is wrong."

I'm not much for labels. In the strictest sense that is. I believe that labels can be a positive thing on one hand, because knowing who and what you are is important. It is a step that allows for you, me, or whomever to then shatter all preconceived notions that a label may hold. That was Donna Summer's strength, her contribution, and her legacy shared through her music.

While many will, and especially in the wake of her shocking passing, associate her with one decade and genre, Donna Summer at her core was a pop singer. When I say "pop" I don't mean "popular music," but the genre of pop which is marked by dramatic, stylistic departures on each record. The popularity of the artist may not hold up in a commercial sense, but the artistic license of the description I just stated doesn't expire.

It was Summer's pop frippery and dedication that caught the ears of this young, awkward teenager in the early 2000's. It took at least two years for me to understand the magnitude of Summer's gift, the scope of her sound. It has continued in an enduring love affair that has seen me collect every record of hers I could, write about her to expose her underrated moments to larger audiences, and just revel in the charge her music gives me.

Summer, circa Live & More era
Her beginnings could mislead the uninitiated. The Bostonian, one of seven children, may have gone directly into the traditional soul vein with her heavy church rearing. Summer confessed to hearing the voice of God telling her that she would one day be famous, but her journey was not to be the average one. Possessing a powerful instrument (that voice), Summer easily could have become another Aretha Franklin inspired imitator and how boring would that have been?

Instead she ended up in Europe after high school, becoming something of a theater circuit darling. Living there, she landed on the road to her debut recording Lady of the Night (1974). Scoring her first international hit with the high drama of "The Hostage," Summer quickly unveiled her second album Love to Love You Baby (1975) to American success. Its title track has gone on to eternal legend status.

After returning to the arms of her native America, Summer slowly built on the growing movement born from black music with a touch of European sophistication: disco. Her stream of underground classics swelled on albums like A Love Trilogy (1976), Four Seasons of Love (1976), I Remember Yesterday (1977), and Once Upon a Time (1977). With the soundtrack ruby "Last Dance" for the film Thank God It's Friday (1978), Summer had a timely segue into the mainstream disco explosion of the late '70's.

We all know the hits. The requisite four-on-the floor jams and even the revolutionary number "I Feel Love," the latter which gave birth to electronic dance music. Summer's best sides from this mentioned cluster of early recordings included the boogie woogie twister "I Remember Yesterday," the straight ahead soul of "A Man Like You," or the chilly chant of "Now I Need You".

My further digging unfurled Summer's '80's discography which revealed an electric selection. The Wanderer (1980), a brazen, defiant about face to her dance roots was jaw dropping. Its personal thematic precision set the standard for albums like Impossible Princess (1998) and Ray of Light (1998) by two women influenced most by Summer: Kylie Minogue and Madonna, both of whom I adore.

Summer, circa 2011
Her masterpiece cover of Jon & Vangelis' "State of Independence," under direction of maestro Quincy Jones for her tenth platter Donna Summer (1982) is what made me the fan I've been since 2001.

I heard the raw gypsy spiritualism ensconced in the song. It rang through my psyche and heart. Donna Summer spoke to me in that song. I listened to her singing of places and ideas that could be conceived, I knew I could do and be what I wanted. I could explore the unknowns of the world. My romance continued, spurned on by the character driven approach Summer used when she sang. She never bludgeoned you into submission with her voice. Summer knew how to read and let the emotion, the narrative, the idea of the song lead her voice. Breathy, pulsing, staunch, vital any adjective you could think of Summer occupied. The sky writing heights of "All Systems Go," the title track to her 1987 album, still makes me smile. The immediacy of Another Place and Time (1989) and the joyful patches on Crayons (2008) found Summer fearless.

I've learned that this versatility draws the ire of standard black female singers, their fans and historians. Many quickly attempt to niche Summer into "disco" despite her abilities on display. It has made for fascinating study, especially when Summer had a nice number of R&B hits. While those black charters didn't outnumber her larger pop scores, when Summer was with her people, she always seemed genuine and enthused.

In addition to her songwriting skills, Summer remained unafraid to push boundaries visually as well. Whether posing as the black version of Marilyn Monroe on the inner jacket sleeve to Four Seasons of Love, or donning a blonde wig and leather bomber on Mistaken Identity (1991), Summer didn't prescribe to antiquated racial lines of beauty on either side.

Summer Performing "Romeo" 
From "A Hot Summer Night" T.V. Special 1983

I've had singers I've enjoyed pass away and any loss of life is a tragedy. Today was the first day I felt my heart truly break at the reception of the news of Donna Summer's death. To a fellow black gypsy like myself, Summer was more than just a mere disco legend. She was someone palatable that through her music connected with me, and others, who looked for acceptance outside of the smaller circles we were (and are) forced to (sometimes) move within. She made it okay for me to be an African-American who knew who he was, but not content to be boxed in by his own people.

She stayed true to her muse and often made efforts to share her journey. Sometimes this made her feverishly unpopular with fans, but those hip knew the deal and respected her directions. Donna Summer's love of expressing the human condition will be missed in her untimely removal from this Earth. Revisionism will continue to be Summer's worst enemy, and it is a shame, because her music has so much to give. The adventure, integrity, and spirit of the woman will be missed greatly too. Goodbye Donna, thanks for everything, I love and miss you girl.-QH

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Revisiting Deee-Lite's "Infinity Within" After 20 Years

L to R: Dmitry, Towa Tei, Kier
Three individuals, Dmitry Brill, Dong-hwa Chung, and Kierin Kirby drew together in the cultural axis of New York City to form Deee-Lite two decades ago. Known collectively by their respective stage names Super DJ Dmitry (production), Towa Tei (keyboards), and Lady Miss Kier (vocals) they blasted onto the popular culture lexicon with the super duper pop slap of "Groove is in the Heart" from their first album World Clique (1990).

Deee-Lite became the group to keep on pushin' dance music, which had gone through another of its many shifts, into a new decade. World Clique, a swanky collection of funk, disco, with hip-hop sample know-how clutched a pop fetishism that snagged casuals and snobs. Deee-Lite crossed over into the mainstream charts but kept their underground dance scene credibility. Deee-Lite encapsulated the (later) emergent trait of the 1990's: that catch-all embrace of pre-existing musical sounds, in retrospect, putting them far ahead of the curve. That advancement doomed them to the fate of "one-hit wonder-dom" and revisionist cruelty. At the time, they were a glaring oddity, dance floor hedonists who flung their skills in the faces of the dominating forces of West Coast hip-hop, grunge, and New Jack Swing.

Majority of the active pop purveyors of the time (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Paula Abdul) were adopting the harder sides of the mentioned dominant popular music styles (Dangerous 1991, Erotica 1992, Spellbound 1991). Nonplussed, Deee-Lite plowed their own path that was decidedly freer and poppier on their second offering 1992's Infinity Within.

Infinity Within was bigger, bolder, and brighter than World Clique. A cementing of their pop niche that had them, like World Clique before it, borrowing from the best parts of the '70's, and working with the best talent around. On board to join Deee-Lite as they steered their sophomore vehicle included Speech (of Arrested Development), saxophonist Maceo Parker (of Parliament-Funkadelic), guitarist/vocalist Bootsy Collins, and Michael Franti (of Disposable Heroes).

The above list was just the "star power" side, the musicians and vocalists troupe included: Fred Wesley (brass), Bernie Worrell (clavinet), Catfish Collins (guitar), Satoshi Tomie (piano), Robin Lobe (percussion), Misha Masud (tablas), Gary "Mudbone" Cooper, Danny Madden, Sahirah Moore, Zhana Saunders, Sheila Slappy (background vocals).
Single cover to "Runaway"

Under Deee-Lite's guidance, the assorted talent assisted in erecting a powerful album that cut between carefree concerns and socio-economic issues. The fun sides were contagious and giddy. Opening with Bootsy Collins declaring "Skinnybackmonkeyandhitme!" on "Heart Be Still," the surefire jungle groover dipped, swerved, and curved.

The polished house finish in the lead single "Runaway" was sleeker and serrated (something they'd pick up on their third, and final, album '95's Dewdrops in the Garden). "Runaway" pulled at the listener, even those looking for another "Groove is in the Heart".
"Two Clouds Above Nine" was a jittery shuffler, "Electric Shock" misled in its title as the song was all calm intonations and ice cream cool. The barely there sweetness of "I Won't Give Up" platformed Kier as an adroit stylist that held her own vocally. The flirtacious creamery in "Pussycat Meow," an aural come-on that Kylie Minogue herself would've killed to have owned, playfully seduced.

On the deeper sides, "I Had a Dream I Was Falling Through a Hole in the Ozone Layer" worked over gospel organs, sampled and authentic funk steam, and presented progressive politics versus empty rhetoric. Their brand of activism was kooky on "Vote, Baby, Vote" (tapped as an advertisement for the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election), and at times severely danceable and serious on "Fuddy Duddy Judge." "Fuddy Duddy Judge" in particular was an excellent mash-up of Michael Franti's alert raps and Kier's jump roping croons. The layered, often to hypnotic effect, sonics placed Dmitry and Tei as acute tunesmiths that knew how to apply rhythms and weird noise widgets ("I.F.O (Identified Flying Object)") or slip into chill-lite plastered corners ("Love is Everything").

A pop record with a message? It appeared Deee-Lite was ambitious, and rightfully so, Infinity Within a rare beauty and a beast of musicianship. It also heralded firsts in the music marketplace, being one of the initial "digi-pak," or paper sleeve, CD's released. In one of the obnoxious and mean twists of industry fate, the album met indifference. Critically, some said it was accomplished, but reached too high. Fans have tended to be kinder to Infinity Within, granting it status of Deee-Lite's best work.

Deee-Lite's MTV Interview for Infinity Within

Elektra Records, Deee-Lite's label, not knowing how to market a record that courted both escapism and introspection contributed to the commercial floundering of Infinity Within (#67, U.S. Hot 100).  All of the singles ("Runaway," "Thank You Everyday," "Pussycat Meow") from Infinity Within went on to become massive club storms (hits) and kept them hot on the touring circuit.

Only one more album appeared, the dancier, but no less captivating Dewdrops in the Garden in 1995 as mentioned. They pulled in another member at this time, Ani Schempf (DJ Ani), who replaced Towa Tei who departed after this, Deee-Lite's third album, to go on to a lucrative solo run. Both Dmitry and Kier moved further into DJing professionally after Deee-Lite's dissolution and remain revered figures on the club scene today. Looking back, especially with the success of lesser imitators (sorry Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry), Deee-Lite were light years up on things. Infinity Within endures as a lost anthemic recording that captures what humanity does best, reflecting and partying. Five out of five stars.

[Editor's Note: Deee-Lite's catalogue is in print, digital and physical formats equally, however Infinity Within is only available new digitally. However, decent copies (conditions vary due to its paper sleeve nature) abound in used record stores for decent prices where yours truly found a clean copy.-QH]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Decade of Amerie

Amerie Essence Magazine Photo Shoot, 2009
It was the summer of 2002 when D.C. native Amerie Mi Rogers scored her first hit "Why Don't We Fall In Love," and roped in every conceivable R&B listener. Ten years later, Amerie is one of the few, the finest, the (sadly) undervalued women in black music. Her initial recording home, Columbia Records, would release her first three albums: All I Have (2002), Touch (2005), and Because I Love It (2007). Because I Love It did not see an American release until the early fall of 2008.

Amerie currently rests her hat at Island/Def Jam. There, she unleashed her fourth long player In & Love War (2009). Her fifth album under the Island/Def Jam umbrella Cymatika Volume 1, to be preceded by The Prelude EP, are due to manifest sometime this year. Both projects are no doubt stalled due to label static. Said label problems are the undisputed factor that has held Amerie back from larger commercial gain and exposure. However, where her commercial clout has been lacking, creatively her abilities can't be questioned. At the beginning she was merely an extension of her mentor/producer Rich Harrison, and became the true lightning rod for the ongoing go-go music rediscovery of the 2000's.

With Touch, her second album, Amerie took control and wrote majority of that record. From Touch, Amerie has written, arranged, produced, selected the producers and guided the arc of her music. The Amerie sound is something undeniably joyful, artistic, and vibe-alicious. For women in popular R&B music, such a multi-layered creative conscience is unheard of. Amerie's mastery of the art of sampling also cannot go without mention, making her one of the best singers to reinterpret established material within her own work. In celebrating Amerie's four previous platters across 10 years, it's her integrity that's reason to cheer. As long as Amerie's compass is set to her truth, come what may, her legacy will be secure.

All I Have
Release Date: 7/30/02
Album Placements: U.S. R&B #2, U.S. Pop #9
Singles: "Why Don't We Fall In Love?" (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Hot 100 #29, U.K. #40) "Talkin' to Me" (U.S. R&B #18, U.S. Hot 100 #51)
Notable Producer: Rich Harrison
Notable Samples Included: Miroslav Vitous "Synthesizers Dance," Emerson, Lake & Palmer "From the Beginning"
SynopsisAmerie started off with a sturdy set of friendly bangers and ballads, courtesy of producer Rich Harrison. Harrison had been an up-&-coming producer, but with Amerie as his canvas he finally managed to make a name for himself. Harrison making that name for himself was a major proponent to the weakness of All I Have, as the album spins as a production showcase for Harrison's fluid, if overtly perfumed soul. Amerie didn't have an identity outside of the being the crooner for the tasteful, but uninspired sonics. Amerie's voice, a lemon spritzed stunner, is an acquired taste. Heard here, it is in its rawest form. If one wades through the sleepier moments of All I Have, there are a clasp of classics available. The wispy lead single "Why Don't We Fall in Love" is sweet and genuine. "Talkin' to Me" has a familiar narrative (unrequited love), yet it isn't any less lush in its scope. "Need You Tonight," a humid seduction of the ear, rounds out the mentioned trio. Regardless, All I Have gave Amerie her springboard for future albums, those great moments were just around the bend.

"Why Don't We Fall In Love"
 Director: Benny Boom


Release Date: 4/26/05
Album Placements: U.S. R&B #3, U.S. Pop #5, U.K. #28
Singles: "1 Thing" (U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Hot 100 #8, U.K. #4), "Touch" (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19)
Notable Producers: Rich Harrison, The Buchanans, Dre & Vidal, Lil' Jon, Bink!, Bryce Wilson, Red Sypda
Notable Samples Included: The Meters "Oh, Calcutta!," Jean Carne "You Are All I Need," Roy Ayers "Searching," Earth, Wind & Fire "Evil"
SynopsisOut of nowhere in 2005, after what seemed like a miniature eternity, Amerie reintroduced herself. A feverish composition called "1 Thing," which Amerie wrote, made epic use of The Meters cut "Oh, Calcutta!". It became her biggest hit and epitomized the continual popular music obsession with the D.C. born style of go-go. It's surprising to know that her (then) label Columbia didn't see the commercial appeal of "1 Thing," and (at first) attempted to sully the release of the song. Where Columbia and Amerie were concerned, it was a sign of things to come. Rich Harrison was on board again, but it was Amerie who handled the heavy lifting in writing nearly every song on Touch

Additional production muscle also added to the curves of the record, so the issues of All I Have's sameness did not pop up. Touch banked a stronger set of songs, and though none of the uptempos matched "1 Thing" in its potency ("Talkin' About" worked up a good sweat) they still grooved. The ballads that drove Touch: "All I Need," "Falling," "Just Like Me," and her Carl Thomas duet "Can We Go" (whose usage of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Evil" flowed like water) saw Amerie using that unique voice in refreshing ways. Forgiving the obnoxious nod to the crunk'n'b tip in the title track, Amerie had arrived (officially) as the brave new voice in R&B in the 2000's.

"1 Thing"
 Director: Chris Robinson

Because I Love It
Release Date: 5/14/07 (U.K.), 9/30/08 (U.S.)
Album Placements: U.K. #17
Singles: "Take Control" (U.S R&B #66, U.K. #10), "Gotta Work" (U.K. #21, U.K. R&B #6)
Notable Producers: Amerie, Lenny Nicholson, Bryan Michael-Cox, The Buchanans, Cee-Lo, Quran Goodman, Destro, One Up, Chris & Drop, Bink!, Curtis "C-Note" Richardson, Mike Caren, Kore & Bellek
Notable Samples Included: Bob James "Farandole," Kool & the Gang "Give It Up," Malcolm McLaren "World's Famous," Curtis Mayfield "Make Me Believe," Hall & Oates "You Make My Dreams," Mighty Dog Haynes "Hold On, I'm Coming," Tom Zé "Jimi Renda-Se," Willie Hutch "Mother's Theme (Mama)," James Ingram & Patti Austin "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?," Khaled Hadj Brahim "Didi"
SynopsisNo Rich Harrison, no problem. At this juncture Amerie had an exact vision for where she wanted to guide her next musical journey. On Because I Love It, Amerie enlisted several of the producers from Touch, along with new faces to lay out the junior record. The most present member of the production crew was Amerie herself, who took to writing, production, and arranging tasks on several of the tunes. Her ascendancy was heard in her reworking of Curtis Mayfield's "Make Me Believe," (the title remained the same) with a new set of lyrics and plenty of her vocal flair. Because I Love It radiated with a natural confidence and sense of adventure, genres aside. 

Amerie had her own go-go get-ups this time around on the sassy salts of "Hate2loveu" and "Gotta Work," both great entries into the sound she helped put on the scene. Elsewhere, there were funky stabs at '80's freestyle ("Some Like It"), fresh neo-Quiet Storm ("That's What U R"), and just plain sexy, smart R&B treats ("Crazy Wonderful," "Take Control"). She reached a bit too far on "All Roads," which in the shadow of the astounding "Paint Me Over" paled, but the effort was applauded. The record did not get a chance to prove its mettle Stateside. Columbia Records inexplicably pushed back the release of the album by a year. By the time the record received its U.S.A. debut, Amerie had dissolved her brief partnership with Columbia Records. One of the stand out R&B recordings of the last decade, the record did find life in the United Kingdom, and notched up critical and fan acclaim in the U.S.A. 

"Take Control" 
Director: Scott Franklin

In Love & War
Release Date: 11/3/09
Album Placements: U.S. R&B #3, U.S. Pop #46, U.K. R&B #29
Singles: "Why R U" (U.S. R&B #55), "Heard 'Em All" (U.S. R&B #81) "More Than Love,"* "Dear John"*
Notable Producers: Amerie, Lenny Nicholson, The Buchanans, Warryn Campbell, Bryan Michael-Cox, Sean Garrett, Eric Hudson, Jim Jonsin, Jonas Jeberg, Karma, Rico Love, Teddy Riley, TrackNova, M-Phazes
Notable Samples Included: Kool & the Gang "Summer Madness," Ultramagnetic MCs "Ego Trippin'," Melvin Bliss "Synthetic Substitution," Mint Condition "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)"
SynopsisAmerie's move to Island/Def Jam, a label at this time not renowned for viewing their roster as artists but commodities, worried fans. Along with the return of several Amerie production favorites, herself included, and a veteran (Teddy Riley), there were very specific producers along for the ride to bring that commercial sheen. On tracks such as "Swag Back" and "Dear John," Amerie worked to find herself in ordinary material, and even had a few uneven moments of her own ("The Flowers"). Yet somehow, In Love & War satisfied and surprised in equal measure. Removing the mentioned hiccups, In Love & War played well, in its best cuts it was downright spectacular. Live instrumentation abounded on "Higher" and "Dangerous," courtesy of the snarling guitarists Francesco Romano and Sean Windsor. These rich colors, among other musical layers, kept Amerie's music established as flavorful fun. 

Teddy Riley, the New Jack Swing superstar, co-stewed over the opener "Tell Me You Love Me," a popping number that saw Amerie in complete command of her vocal facilities. The rumbling "Heard 'Em All" rode a rougher terrain than her pleasant double duets "Pretty Brown" (with Trey Songz) and "More Than Love" (with Fabolous).  Ballads remained cornerstones, and whether heartrendingly honest ("Different People") or sensuous ("Red Eye"), Amerie hadn't lost her touch. Of course, muted commercial success (despite a resurgence at U.S. R&B) sank the album. Critically, it was another winner for her, a true victory considering its mentioned uneven portions. Her accruing such accolades in the music reviewing realm kept her apart from other urban starlets. In Love & War embodied its title by pushing back against label meddling, and letting her formula stay her own.

"Why R U" 
Director: Ray Kay

[Editor's Note: All of Amerie's recordings are in print, and available at most music retailers, physical or digitally. Apologies for the competing Youtube and Daily Motion clips, certain videos were only available on certain mediums. *Chart positions for those singles marked with the asterisk unable to be located. Visit Amerie at Ameriie Official which includes links to her Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr pages.-QH]